TRIPOLI: Militants claiming allegiance to Islamic State fought forces loyal to Libya’s two rival governments in the central city of Sirte and further east in Benghazi, a Libyan news agency and residents said on Wednesday.
In Sirte, Islamic State militants killed five members of a force loyal to the government that controls Tripoli, a Tripoli-based news agency said. Two military sources said the attack near a power station on Sirte’s western outskirts appeared to be a suicide bombing, but gave no further details.
Fighters loyal to the Tripoli government, sent to Sirte from the western city of Misrata, have clashed several times with the militants and had set up checkpoints near the power station.
There was also heavy fighting between Islamists and forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government, which is based in the east in Benghazi, after Islamic State militants claimed a suicide attack on an army post in the port city.
War planes attacked suspected Islamist positions early on Wednesday, residents and military officials said. Gunfire and rocket propelled grenades could be heard in several districts.
Military officials had vowed air attacks on Islamists in response to a suicide bombing on Tuesday which killed seven people in Benghazi. Two more people had been killed by a rocket hitting residential buildings.
Militants claiming ties to Islamic State have exploited the turmoil in Libya, where two governments and parliaments fight for control four years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.
Taking advantage of the security vacuum, just as Islamic State did in Syria and Iraq, the militants expanded recently in Sirte, taking over government offices, universities and a radio station.
The recognized government has been based in the east since a rival faction seized the capital in August and reinstated a previous assembly, challenging the elected parliament which is also based in the east.
Both governments rely on former rebels who helped topple Gaddafi and are now caught in a power struggle. In Benghazi the official premier Premier Abdullah al-Thinni has allied himself with general Khalifa Haftar who in May started his own fight against Islamists.
Islamic State militants have claimed several attacks including the storming of a Tripoli hotel in January and the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts from Sirte.